Food suggestions for senior dog with some liver problems

Hi everyone.
So glad that I have found this forum. I am tying myself up in knots concerning my dog’s diet at the moment so any help or advice will be greatly appreciated Here’s our story …
My dog Harvey is 14 years old. Last year a urine test showed that his kidneys were not fully functioning. My vet did not feel there was a need to prescribe medication. Flying into a panic, trying to prevent any further damage I researched any support that I could give him. I found Hills k/d diet and after checking with the surgery and a vet (not Harvey’s normal vet who said the low protein would benefit him) I placed Harvey on the diet. Some months later, a pre surgery blood test showed Harvey’s kidneys were ok but now his liver was not functioning brilliantly. Nothing to warrant medication or a change in diet as the k/d had benefits for the liver too.
Here we are around 9/10 months later…
Harvey’s kidneys are still ok but there is a drop in liver function. After blood tests, basically my vet described that liver function has 3 stages, good, bad and the number 2 stage somewhere in between and this is where Harvey’s liver is. A scan showed an enlarged gall bladder full of bile. He is currently on destolit to neutralise the bile and milk thistle as a supplement.
Here’s the food question…
I want to take Harvey off the k/d and the vet has said this is ok to change to a senior diet of ‘good quality’.
Reasons why: he doesn’t really like it and it can be hard to get him to eat it. He is on a mix of dry and wet and usually mixed with warm water to entice him.
He’s been gradually losing weight, partly due I think to the amount he spits out on the floor. The vet had found no clinical reason for the weight loss and attributes it to Harvey being the type of senior dog who loses weight rather than the ones who put weight on.
He has some back leg muscle wastage, partly I think due to the low protein. (I could be wrong).
Harvey’s needs are quite complex I think.
After research, it seems that he needs: good digestible protein, low phosphorous, low copper and I’m unsure of the fibre! He also needs a food that could help maintain his weight, if not help him to put a little on!
I would prefer a commercial diet of wet and dry food as Harvey doesn’t like an all dry diet. Home cooking is an option I know but I worry about giving him the correct diet he needs.
After spending days and hours of research I did finally settle on giving an alternative a try. I chose wainwrights senior grain free and have begun the changeover. It seemed to have a nice list of ingredients and scored highly on this site so thought would give it a try and see how he got on. However after contacting the vet at online animal product suppliers at, he said that these types of food aren’t applicable to my dog and suggested of course Royal Canin or Hills (surprise, surprise!).
Now I’m all in a tizzy again. Didn’t want to put Harvey on royal canin or hills. Want him to have a diet he can enjoy without it being detrimental to his health.

(I am continuing the changeover to wainwrights as don’t want to keep changing his food- just hope it won’t hurt him if he has to change diets again. )
Apologies for long post, it’s a complex business isn’t it?!!
Harvey, like all poochies, is incredibly precious so any good advice or suggestions of commercial foods would be very welcome.
Thank you.

Hello and welcome to the forum. It is sad that your elderly dog has developed liver disease. It’s good news that the kidneys have not deteriorated. In the past I have had dogs with similar problems to yours, mostly age related but I am not an expert. A diet lower in meat content (protein) is often lower in fat too so that would probably be useful because the liver metabolises and eliminates fat. The thing is that with this kind of formula there is always the trade off and that is made by increasing carbohydrate.

Personally I think you are right in using wet food rather than dry because it is much more palatable and easier to digest when a dog’s appetite is reduced. You are right about Wainwright’s - it does score highly on the Dog Food Directory. This is probably because it has a high quality meat and high protein. Unfortunately it has a correspondingly high fat and I am not sure how that would affect the problem with your dog’s liver. I recently tried my dogs on it for a change and two of them vomited on the lamb variety. This is highly unusual but I can only think that it was simply too rich for them.

Most of the wet foods have a high(ish) fat level but I have just looked at the Directory and selected the following filters:
Type - wet/complete
Nutrient Levels - Fat l5% to 20%

Here are the results:

Advanced Nutrition Mature Tins
Asda Hero Senior Tins
Burns Penlan Farm
Chappie Adult Tins
Denes Light Tins
Denes Senior Tins
Nature’s Harvest Senior
Naturediet Senior Lite
Natures Menu Pouches Senior
Orlando Chunks in Gravy
Orlando Chunks in Gravy with Game
Winalot Puppy and Senior in Jelly.

I am just wondering if you could perhaps try one or two of these and bulk it up with something. David recommends brown rice and/or oatmeal, well cooked but there are other, vegetable fillers. David Green often recommends a little puréed butternut squash or pumpkin. I do not know the nutrients in these but it may be worth thinking about.

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Hello and welcome to the forum, Sorry to hear about Harvey’s problems. I have very little experience with liver or kidney issues in dogs but I hope you can find something which suits without adding to poor Harveys ailments.

What about supplementing the diet you choose with milk thistle? I always buy any herbal remedies for my dogs from a horse supplier as you get huge more value for money.

Thank you Tinyplanets for your kind words. Our little furry ones are so special but such a worry aren’t they! Thankfully Harvey’s blood tests had slightly improved since the first blood profile was done so let’s hope we can keep up the good work!
Dottie, thank you for your advice. Although I have done a lot of research in to dog foods over the past few weeks and I have collected as much information as I can, I do feel a little overwhelmed by making such an important choice of diet and ultimately doing the best I can for Harvey. I am very grateful that your advice has streamlined my focus and I will be checking out those foods which you have suggested.
My vet did suggest chicken, turkey and cottage cheese as a way of adding to low calorific senior diets in order to try and prevent any further weight loss. Would a daily helping of one of these products along with your suggestions of added food be acceptable?
Thank up again

Thanks Lvbate, Harvey is on a milk thistle supplement. I put him on it as soon as ‘liver problems’ were found. I have read good things about it so hopefully it’s helping alongside the prescribed medication.

One of my dogs had a liver tumour and I was advised to feed Royal Canin Hepatic diet. There was dry and tinned so I chose the latter. It was a bit pricey but she quite liked the food. Mind you, the tumour made her very hungry. I just wondered if your vet had mentioned this? At least if you looked at the ingredients and the analysis you would kind of have something to work towards.

The other thing that has just occurred to me is that the food that I give mine (Gentle cold pressed) is quite low in fat - 10.7%. Protein isn’t too high either - 27.4%. There are other cold pressed foods available and they all have one thing in common - they are easily digested and absorbed. When it is broken down in the stomach it is quite different to kibble. Warm water may be added to the pieces (some call them nuggets) and they soften quite quickly; the consistency is pretty much like wet food. We have a thread on Markus Muhle and other cold pressed dog foods - might be worth a look.

A couple of quotes from Mercola

Since that research was published, veterinary recommendations have changed. What we’re recommending for animals struggling with under-functioning kidneys and livers is that you feed really good quality protein that is highly digestible and assimilable.

protein requirements actually increase as pets age. Even in animals with kidney failure, restricting protein didn’t improve their health or longevity.

After research, it seems that he needs: good digestible protein, low phosphorous, low copper and I'm unsure of the fibre! He also needs a food that could help maintain his weight, if not help him to put a little on!

Good digestible, high quality meat based protein is essential. one of the main things with senior (and puppy) foods is higher protein levels. High protein is harmful is a myth based on a flawed study done on rats. (see Orijen white paper)

phosphorous and copper levels, its not so much about them being low as being correctly balanced with other ingredients, for example Phosphorous and Calcium interact, Calcuim binds to phosphorous and allows it to pass through the digestive system, so as long as those ingredients are in appropriate proportions everything will work in harmony.

Sorry if this adds to your confusion, you should probably speak to a qualified nutritionist rather than just your vet, to get proper health and diet related advice, especially for pets with health issues, though the vet should not be totally disregarded while there are ongoing health issues.

I hope you manage to find the right answer

Thanks David. I have read about the flawed studies in to the protein needs of senior dogs and therefore while ‘investigating’ possible foods for my dog the requirement of good quality meat protein has been a top priority for us.
As you say though it’s finding a balance of good protein with the appropriate nutrients that Harvey needs so as to not over stress the kidneys or liver. Your advice concerning the copper etc will help to further focus my search. On with the research then!!
I read with interest your thread of ‘trusting your vet for nutritional advice’ I do trust my vet (we wouldn’t go there if I didn’t) and I am extremely grateful to him for looking after Harvey so well particularly this past year, but on the nutritional needs of Harvey at the minute he wasn’t particularly helpful. He said no to a hepatic diet and his suggestion of a 'good quality senior food ’ was predictably followed with “like royal canin or hills”. Didn’t really want to fill my beautiful dog with ‘who knows what’ substances! And the idea that their protein is ‘good quality’ …well that’s rather debatable it seems. After contacting another vet online he said that the good quality meat protein foods, which I suggested as possibilities for Harvey and score highly on the directory, were not for ‘my particular dog’ and of course he suggested royal canin or hills. No suggestion or advice about alternatives or nutritional requirements. It seemed abit like a ‘palming off situation’ to me at the time! I understand that Harvey’s needs differ from the 'average ’ healthy senior dog and that some foods are not suited for health issues but this vet’s rather blinkered views of RC or hills was frustrating. All I want for Harvey is a good quality food which meets his nutritional needs and which he enjoys eating! Perhaps vets need to start doing some research of their own and begin giving pet owners more adequate nutritional advice and open their minds up more to a dog food world that is not made up of RC or Hills!

That thread wasn’t started by me, I think it was David who owns the AADF site.

The nutritionist/owner at Eden would be more than happy to discuss things with you in detail to help you choose the right food, he won’t send you down the Eden route if its not the right food, and you’re free to ignore his advice anyway, but may just help your research a little but. contact details are on their website, though he may be hard to speak to directly until next week as its all go for Crufts this weekend.

Have you thought about talking the matter over with a specialist (in nutrition) veterinary surgeon? I don’t know of any personally but I assume that the Veterinary colleges would have someone who could help. I remember seeing a television programme where the owners were taking their dogs to Liverpool School of Veterinary Science for dietary advice. I think you would perhaps need to have a referral by the vet but a discussion on the telephone with a specialist might be all that is required.

On the subject of a lower protein diet in the senior dog, in the past this was a common belief. We were told that it was necessary due to decreasing renal function and at the time it made sense because actually lots of dogs (and cats) succumb to renal failure in old age. I have to admit that at one time I used to think that life stage foods were necessary and bought products in this category. Now I prefer good quality food that is for all life stages.

Seniors actually require a higher protein diet than adults as they are unable to utilise the protein as efficiently, almost all senior foods are higher in protein simply because, as with puppy food, the adult foods are too low in protein for those age groups

As you say, a food with the correct balance and protein levels is suitable from weaning to old age, so no need to change throughout the life, if a food works you can just stick with it.

Hi Dottie, thanks for the tip about cold pressed food. Have looked at the gentle so far and it seems to fit requirements for my dog. Just wondered if you fed it as complete or would it be a good idea to supplement with other foods? I may give it a try because having looked at all the ‘numbers’ this seems to fit quite well.
Really like the look of Lupo too. Do you know if this could be softened with water too?

It is a complete food so no need to supplement it, although I spoil my three and just add a very little cooked chicken, white fish or sardines. It is advertised as being suitable for raw feeders. Gentle softens beautifully with warm water and it smells delicious. It looks just like potted meat. I don’t know whether Lupo softens in the same way but the formula is very similar so I would imagine it will. I do know that Platinum doesn’t soften as well as Gentle but it is not quite the same as cold pressed.

I spent a lot of time and effort finding a suitable food for my three, all at different life stages and this one has been the best. All are doing well and have good firm poos. Beate Rothon is the UK representative for the company who make these products and also the owner of Gentle but I know from their Facebook page that she is at Crufts today until Sunday. However, it might be worth giving her a call on the mobile number.

Thanks Dottie. Was up very late last night but just couldn’t find a food to match Harvey’s requirements. Then I re-read your post and checked out the cold pressed foods and was pleased with what I saw. I think it’s a good possibility. Thank you so much for your help.

I hope that you manage to find something suitable, whether it be cold pressed or not. Please would you keep us informed?

Hi. Our bag of Gentle has arrived. Harvey had some mixed with his current kibble and gobbled it up.
Rang our veterinary surgery tonight to get his current weight for feeding the correct amount and spoke to the nurse about his new food. She said that she didn’t know about Gentle and when I said it seemed to fit his requirements she said that coming off his renal food he needs good digestible protein, low phosphrous and high fat.
Gentle has good protein and at 10g phosphrous and 12.5g calcium this seems to be low phosphrous and a good calcium phosphrous ratio. Unless I’m wrong on this. The fat content worries me. Does anyone have any advice on this. I don’t want Harvey losing anymore weight or suffering from a low fat diet. I am confused whether he does need high or low fat. I trust my surgery but I’m not sure I can trust their nutritional advice. I felt better about choosing gentle but this phone call has sent me into disarray again!
My thoughts are to see how he goes on it, but at Harvey’s age and with his health problems I don’t want to keep changing his food. Any advice or thoughts would be welcome.

I think it might be best if you asked the nurse why she advises a high fat diet. Maybe it is because your dog is not considered to have malabsorption of fat. Gentle has an average fat level so hopefully this will be ok. As you know, it is difficult, if not impossible to get every single element just right. You are quite close with this product. If you want to add more meat/fat you could always consider topping up with a bit of raw food. I am currently doing this with my little one just for a change. She is having her Gentle but a little less than normal and I am topping up with some Natures Menu Country Hunter nuggets. I find these convenient because I can just take enough cubes for the day out of the freezer.

I’m going to take a copy of the nutrition and analysis to the vets to see what they think. Iv checked all the percentages and Gentle seems to fit in with most of the recommended requirements as I mentioned above. Harvey’s vet has said that he doesn’t need a prescription diet so his diet does not need too many restrictions I don’t think. Nurses reaction just seems to have ‘wobbled’ my confidence in giving him gentle so that I feel that I need some reassurance. My reaction was similar to yours Dottie in that that I could supplement it, maybe with a wet food. Just have a horrible feeling that the phrase “a good quality senior diet like royal canin or hills” is going to be ringing in my ears as I leave the surgery!

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